Barack Obama has become the first US president in 88 years to visit Cuba as the two countries enter a new era in diplomacy. Mr Obama’s whirlwind trip is a crowning moment in his and Cuban President Raul Castro’s effort to restore normal relations between their countries.
While deep differences persist, the economic and political relationship has changed rapidly in the 15 months since the leaders vowed a new beginning. Wielding an umbrella on a rainy Havana afternoon, Mr Obama and his family stepped off of Air Force One and were greeted by senior Cuban officials – but not Mr Castro.
The Cuban leader frequently greets major world figures at Jose Marti International Airport, but he was absent on the tarmac. Instead, he plans to greet Mr Obama at the Palace of the Revolution. The last U.S. president to visit Cuba was Calvin Coolidge who visited on a warship in 1928.
Joined by wife Michelle and his two daughters, he toured Old Havana by foot, walking gingerly on the slippery wet stones in front of Havana Cathedral. A few hundred people in the square erupted in applause and shouted his name as the family stepped forward.
Approaching the Plaza de Armas, a leafy square in a tenderly restored corner of Old Havana, the Obamas were greeted by buoyant chants of ‘USA, USA’.
Mr Obama’s visit was highly anticipated in Cuba, where workers cleaned up the streets in Old Havana and gave buildings a fresh coat of paint. American flags were raised alongside the Cuban colours in parts of the capital, an improbable image for those who have lived through half a century of bitterness between the two countries.
But many Cubans stayed home to avoid extensive closures of main boulevards.
- Metro, UK